Coronation surveillance is a step towards a dark future
The new technology is more than just an invasion of privacy
If you walk past a mobile camera van in central London this weekend, your face may be one of millions scanned, measured, turned into a matrix of numbers and compared against a police database of similarly encoded faces. If yours closely resembles a face on the “Wanted” list, you could be stopped by a human being and asked to prove that you’re not the person being sought for arrest. That’s because the Metropolitan Police has announced that they intend to use Live Facial Recognition (LFR) technology to watch the Coronation crowds.
Back in 2020, I sidled up to a bearded man in a café in San Francisco. “Excuse me,” I said, “aren’t you Representative Aaron Peskin? I’ve been emailing your office to ask for an interview.” I was writing about how San Francisco became the first city in the world to ban Facial Recognition Technology. A handful of other US cities quickly followed San Francisco’s lead in banning (or severely restricting) police use of FRT.
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I didn’t admit that, to confirm my suspicions the man sitting across the café was the same man responsible for that legislation, I had done a furtive internet search on my phone and compared his face with identified photographs in the public realm.
Live Facial Recognition technology has automated a similar process to the one I used to track down Peskin, comparing the face in front of the camera to a verified photograph, and then checking directly with the individual on the spot. Met Police cameras will not record images, or attempt to identify every passer-by. A watchlist of faces will be compared to the people walking past. Plausible matches will alert a human operator, who must judge whether to engage with the matched person.
The Met now requires authorisation by a senior officer, detailing the legitimate aim, legal basis, necessity, proportionality, and impact assessments, before LFR is used. It recognises the importance of transparency to retain public trust, and also the potential deterrence effect of highly visible deployment on individuals who suspect they may be on a watchlist. This is certainly an improvement on the early, unregulated deployment I wrote about in 2020. But it is still a step towards a world of ubiquitous surveillance, and away from freedom of movement and association.
Alun Michael, South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, defended LFR to me in a 2021 radio programme. How was it different from posting a policeman above a crowded station to watch out for known suspects, he asked? Apart from being more efficient, of course. There are pragmatic objections to the limitations of the technology. In particular, it’s poor at distinguishing non-white faces, meaning more wrongly flagged dark-skinned people, who already feel unfairly scrutinised by the police. But this is not the main reason to be concerned about routine use of LFR.
It’s good that LFR doesn’t keep a record of all the innocent faces passing by, but it still checks each one against a list. It is, in that sense, equivalent to asking to see every person’s ID to check that they’re not wanted for arrest or trial. Even if no record were kept of all those ID cards, we would still feel scrutinised. We’d be justified in feeling unable to move freely around a city without proving that we were not a suspicious person.
Like fingerprints or DNA, our faces are unique enough to declare who we are, with or without our consent. We will never be a “papers please” society now, because papers will soon be unnecessary to identify us anywhere we go, in public or online. If we want privacy, we will have to make the moral, legal and political case to defend it.
The only thing limiting this from constantly scanning all of us is that we don’t have biometric digital ID yet.
Please resist it when your government (Starmer will finish Sunak’s WEF mission here) tries to impose it on you. At first, it will likely be ‘optional’ and ‘for your convenience’, but very quickly, you will find yourself excluded from society for being a refusenik. It is the key to the digital panopticon, and the CBDCs cannot work without it.
We can resist it if many refuse it (like the Poll Tax).
Why do you have to drag in the talking shop of the WEF into your argument? You weaken a good case by making it into a non existent conspiracy and making those concerned sound like nutters.
The WEF is an influential forum, though as has been discussed on UnHerd before, often following fashions rather than setting them, whether neoliberalism, the security system or environmental issues. No one is giving the British government orders on this.
Now is a good time to buy a burka
Stay away from cities and large towns and assume the worst of every official you come into contact with . Learn to travel using back routes and learn to read maps. Ignore the stupid argument about nothing to fear if ——–. it is the state I fear and the zombies who serve it. Use cash and never ever trust them again. If you did not learn this the last 3 years then you were not paying attention.
Self identifying as a female?
If you can’t beat them…
Less drastic… the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask.
What a surprise for the Pipls National Socialist Republic of HewKay nu britn… Our gutless, cowardly, amoral cringing fear, and lack of appreciation of centuries of freedom has just handed dystopia to our politicians and police… We should be ashamed, and look at how the lgbt/racism/ecosandaloidtotalitarians have taken over precisely because they made themselves heard, whilst we all cringed..in indolent idle quisling like inertia….
Didn’t Thomas Jefferson say something along the lines of “those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither, and will lose both”? I can’t recall the exact wording nor the context, but the sentiment seems apposite…
Do we know for sure they don’t keep records of their LFR usage – or are we just taking their word for it?
I feel instinctively uneasy about this technology, but I’m unsure about some of the claims against it. If your face is scanned as you pass the van but you are not identified by this process (unless you are on the watchlist) and the data is not saved, how is that ‘equivalent to asking to see every person’s ID’ or intrusion into your freedom of movement? I may be missing something here but shouldn’t I feel more concerned about the use and abuse of data about me that is saved?
Agreed. As long as the info is instantly forgotten I personally don’t have a problem with it. If the information is recorded however then that’s a whole different ball game
My thoughts precisely: “where to from here?”. If the possibility exists (to retain data), the temptation to exercise it surely does too. It is at least very concerning.
The government, civil service, border force and police are bloody useless and inefficient at everything they do.
So maybe it’s not as bad as it could be.
It is all part of an insidious technological breach of our privacy. All your actions will soon be known to the powers that be. Look at how much is known about an individual in the last 25 years with the explosion of technology. In 25 more years we will be living in 1984 at best.
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